Gao Jiancheng was born around 1888 in a village near Kaifeng in Henan. When he was seven years old, he saw a Western missionary preaching on the street. Because of the poverty of his family, he left home at the age of 16 and went to the city to make a living. Once day, he approached the home of Mr. and Mrs. Edward G. Bevis, who were CIM missionaries, and knocked on the door, looking for work. He immediately became a servant in their home. Not long afterward, when Mr. Bevis saw that he was clever and a diligent worker, he discussed with Mrs. Bevis whether to send the boy to school and receive an education and only work after class. In May, 1905, a number of guests came to their home, one of whom wore a long pigtail. He was none other than Hudson Taylor, the founder of the CIM. His overall bearing and gentleness left a deep impression upon Gao. Not long afterwards, under the influence of the Bevises, he trusted in Jesus Christ as his savior. From then on, he sought God’s help and leading in all that he did.
In January, 1904, medical missionaries in Kaifeng had already treated hundreds of patients, and their reputation had spread to the surrounding villages. Many sick people walked 50 or even 100 miles to the medical clinic, leading the missionaries to believe that they should build a hospital. After Dr. G. Whitfield Guinness had raised a fund for it during his furlough in England, they purchased land and started to build the hospital at the end of 1904.
In the summer of 1905, Dr. Sidney H. Carr found that his medical missionary work had become extremely busy, so that he greatly desired to find a medical student to serve as his assistant, one whom he could train to become a physician. He had already noticed Gao in the gospel hall, and had a good impression of him. So, he brought Gao in and presented an offer for him to do medical work. He told him that after 7 years as a student and many examinations in medicine, Gao would qualify for a five-year residency in the hospital. Finally, after a final test of clinical skills, he would graduate and be formally qualified as a physician. The entire process would take 12 years. possessing unusual resolve, the young Gao bravely left home and followed Dr. Carr in his work.
The Kaifeng Gospel Hospital formally opened its doors in January, 1906. At the time, the staff was composed only of Dr. Carr and Dr. Guinness, plus a few medical students. In the first year, however, they treated more than 4,000 patients, and more than 291 operations were performed. Although Gao had had only one year of formal education, by diligent and assiduous study he had passed all his medical exams before the 7 years were completed, and entered the hospital as an intern in 1911. He not only succeeded academically, but grew spiritually. He read his Bible regularly, loved God and other people, and became a messenger of the gospel.
American medical missionary Dr. George E. King was temporarily assigned to the Kaifeng Gospel Hospital in the summer of 1911. He was a year older than Gao. The two had similar ideas and cherished similar ideals, valuing medicine but also glad to engage in evangelism. They often went out together to do medical evangelism. During a brief period of only 9 months they established a very close friendship. In March of 1912, when King was sent to the Wilson Memorial Hospital in Pingyang, Shanxi, Gao accompanied him.
In 1915, George King established the Borden Memorial Hospital in Lanzhou, Gansu. He had an urgent need for medical staff, and especially wanted a Chinese medical doctor to worker with him, so he extended an invitation to his friend Gao Jiancheng. Within a period of only five years, Gao had already passed all the tests for clinical medicine and was formally recognized as a physician. At the age of 27, after his graduation he had limitless prospects for his career, and could have earned a great deal of money, but he saw King’s invitation as a “Macedonian call” (see Acts 16:9-10). One evening at the hospital, as he was on his knees praying, he heard the still voice of Jesus calling him and quietly rebuking him: “What have you lacked all these years? Which of the things which I promised you have failed to come to pass? Did I call you in order for you to become a high official or a celebrity? Or to spread the gospel?” At once, he felt a sense of deep self-reproach, and saw that he had forgotten God’s mercy and had been ungrateful. Searching his heart, he asked himself, “If it had not been for God’s call and provision, where would he be today? If so many missionaries had not cared for both his body and his soul, where would he have gotten this opportunity to be a doctor?” At this point, he re-affirmed his covenant with Christ willingly to lay down everything to be a faithful servant of the Lord, wherever he should be sent. Not long afterwards, he accepted King’s invitation and, at the end of 1915, took his young wife and two daughters and set out to his new post in the far remote area.
After taking up his position at Borden Memorial Hospital, Gao, along with George King and Dr. Robert C. Parry, simultaneously engaged in training medical students and in taking them out into places both far and near to do evangelism; in this they worked closely and harmoniously. A large city in the region, Liangzhou (now called Wuwei City), was the most remote mission station in the Northwest China field of the CIM; the Rev. and Mrs. W.M. Belcher were quietly sowing gospel seed there. Gao frequently went to help them in their evangelistic work labors. He also once traversed the Hexi corridor to towns and villages on the border, and even took his medical evangelistic work as far west as Tibet.
Nine students graduated in the first class of the Borden Medical School in 1919. As they were being scattered to various locations for medical missionary work, Gao took the initiative to request that he be sent to Ganzhou to engage in both medical work and evangelism. In a report later, George King referred to them:
This group of Christian medical students had often been in our prayers. We are the only hospital in the province. Thus, when missionaries open pharmacies in various places, with our students beginning to practice medicine, it is all an extension of our medical missionary work. Among the Chinese students who have opened up clinics, the one in Ganzhou operated by Dr. Gao is the largest and best.
When he began his work in Ganzhou, Gao lived in a low-cost hotel, where he both treated patients and preached the gospel; it was an especially difficult time for him. His excellent skill as a doctor made him quite famous, while his preaching led often to opposition, even persecution. He would not be discouraged, however; though he encountered frustration, he persevered in his labors. In the end, a door was opened for the gospel in Ganzhou. The number of believers grew from 20 to 30; Gao had obtained his own house, where he held worship services on the Lord’s Day.
In 1921, Mrs. Geraldine Taylor arrived in Ganzhou and saw the growth of the church in Ganzhou. In her book, The Call of Chiina’s Great North-West, published in 1924, she wrote:
The most encouraging thing to me was to see how Chinese Christians can initiate new missionary work on their own. In Gansu Province, to see them working without the support of a foundation or sending agency, but relying only on the Holy Spirit, taking the gospel to the farthest corners - this is certainly a rarity! Since this is the result of Dr. Gao’s initiative, I am happy to record the situation of the church in Ganzhou… The first baptism was held in August, 1921, with 17 new believers receiving baptism, two of whom were women. In addition, there are 80 inquirers. This is already the limit of what Dr. Gao can handle right now. Since he wants both to practice medicine and to nurture the congregation, he constantly looks for spiritual strength through prayer. His most recent letter speaks of how he awakes in the middle of the night and prays, asking God to make him into a pious prayer warrior. At this time, the light is really shining in Gansu, with more than Christian working going on in more than 13 places.
In June, 1923, three CIM missionaries who had served for 21 years in Huozhou, Shanxi Province, Miss Eva F. French, Miss A. Mildred Cable, and Miss Francesca L. French, traveled to the far Northwest to begin missionary work. While they were passing through Ganzhou in March of 1924, they visited Gao Jiancheng. They saw the chapel and bookstore of the Ganzhou church right on a main street in the center of the city, where evangelistic preaching took place every day at noon, with about 150 in attendance. 40 had already been baptized. Seeing the need of the believers for biblical instruction, the three ladies discussed the matter and decided to stay for a few months, in order to help Gao and his wife to conduct a short-term Bible school. Mr. James O. Fraser expressed his high opinion of this effort with these words:
The level of biblical instruction these three gave the young people of Ganzhou church is amazing! To require them to read the entire Bible; write detailed notes; and then find answers to many questions was quite an achievement! Most missionaries are content for their Chinese Christians to have just a superficial knowledge of the Bible. But here - in the most remote corner of China - there is a group of young people who are really digging deep into the Scriptures; elsewhere in China, we seldom find this sort of thing. It’s really amazing!
By the end of 1924, 98 had already received baptism, and the chapel was full on the Lord’s Day.
By dint of five years of unremitting labor, Gao had established a center for the gospel in Ganzhou, with a chapel, medical clinic, and a Bible training school, all the result of much sweat and toil. The stones for the buildings were brought one-by-one from the riverbed and transported, one cart at a time, to the construction site. Many of the believers expended time and energy in order to complete the building project. In this city filled with Confucian, Buddhist, and Daoist temples, there was now a Christian chapel to meet the spiritual needs of passersby. In the chapel were Bibles in Chinese, Arabic, Tibetan, and Mongolian languages for people to take up and read. At every city gate one could also see pictorial magazines which brought the name of Jesus before the multitudes.
Gao Jiancheng became a close colleague of the three women missionaries, often traveling to Suzhou to preach the gospel. In February, 1926, after offending the warden of the prison in Suzhou by protecting a poor person, he was thrown into jail by this evil man, and was confined for 42 days. Only when General Feng Yuxiang led his troops into Gansu province was Gao declared innocent and released. This stint in prison badly injured his health, however.
After Gao had gained his freedom, he was chosen and sent to work with the Red Cross by General Feng. During the Nationalist Northern Expedition, Gao accompanied this “Christian General,” marching north with his army. At the beginning of 1928, Feng was made the chairman of the government in the province of Henan, and military governor of Zhengzhou. Gao became director of the military hospital in Zhengzhou. During this period, the Rev. Edward Bevis brought him more than 800 dollars worth of medicines. That summer, Dr. & Mrs. A.G. Taylor and Mr. L.C. Wood, on their return to Lanzhou, made a point to pass through Zhengzhou in order to visit Gao. Although he was still in charge of the hospital, his heart yearned to return to Gansu and continue his medical missionary work.
Information about Gao’s activities in his remaining years is scanty. Only in the CIM publication, China’s Millions, can we find some bits and pieces. From 1928 through 1930, a great famine gripped the North and Northwest of China. In the spring of 1930, CIM General Director D. E. Hoste passed more than 50 million dollars (worth about 25 million US dollars at that time) of relief money and supplies to Mr. G. Findlay Andrew to forward on to send for the succor of the people in Gansu. The route from Xi’an to Lanzhou was plagued by bandits and robbers and thus highly unsafe. Mr. Andrew bought a Ford truck in Tianjin, and with Gao helping and accompanying him, safely transported the money and supplies to Lanzhou in Gansu.
On August 8, 1930, 3,000 Hui (Muslim) soldiers broke into Anding (today’s Dingxi County) and wantonly plundered the area. Miss Irene Reynolds and Miss Ruth L. Nowack, who were working at the CIM mission station there, were put into great danger. Happily, Gao quickly arrived on the scene, procured a safe travel pass for them, and escorted them back to Lanzhou.
On October 28 of the same year a nurse at Borden Memorial Hospital, Miss Emily Gomersal, accompanied Mrs. H. D. Hayward to Beijing, caring for her illness along the way. Near Baotou, Inner Mongolia, they were plundered by bandits. Gao Jiancheng led a company of government troops to rescue them, and got them safely to Beijing.
From these brief records, we can surmise that Gao had freedom to come and go to help people in need and to rescue missionaries, so we may assume that he had left the military hospital by 1929. He probably continue to use his status as a medical missionary, based in the Ganzhou church, to traverse the region of Hexi corridor, all points in Gansu province, and anywhere else he was needed. The year of his death is not known.
- China’s Millions, North American edition, by China Inland Mission?1904, p.21?1922 p.70-72?1926, pp.110?140?1929, pp.73-74?1930, p. 189?1931, pp.58-61?
- China’s Millions, London Edition, 1902, pp. 51?93?99?1903, p. 100?1908, p.91?1909, p. 23?1922, pp. 25?54?1924, pp.119?126-128?1925, 90?1927, p. 101?1928, pp. 54?149?1930, pp. 115?118?183?1931, p. 144?1932, pp. 5-7?
- Taylor, Mrs. Howard, The Call of China’s Great North-West or Kansu and Beyond, 1924.
- Cable, A. Mildred and French, Francesca L., Dispatches from North-West Kansu, 1925.
- Cable, A. Mildred and French, Francesca L., Through Jade Gate and Central Asia, 1927.
- French, Evangeline, Cable, A. Mildred and French, Francesca, A Desert Journal, 1934.
- Cable, A. Mildred and French, Francesca, The Gobi Desert, 1944.
- MacGillivray, D., The China Mission Year Book, 1913.
- Stauffer, Milton T., The Christian Occupation of China (1918-1921), Shanghai, 1922.
- Houghton, Frank, George King Medical Evangelist, 1930.
- Directory of Protestant Missions in China, 1927.